10 ancient sites in Turkey to explore

Southwest Turkey has played host to many ancient civilizations. The Greeks, Romans, Carians and Lycians are just a few to have occupied the region and the remains of their cities and burial sites are still scattered across the vast rugged hills that drop into the glistening Mediterranean sea. Here are 10 ancient sites in Turkey to explore:

1.  Telmessos/Fethiye

Fethiye Rock Tombs ancient sites in Turkey to explore
The Fethiye Rock Tombs – the flowers caught my eye – Credits: Alaturka Turkey 

Now a busy harbor with a quirky old town and charming promenade, Fethiye is a modern Turkish town built upon an ancient city. Walk through bustling markets, high street shops and traditional Turkish cafes, and you may spot one or two of the weather worn, stone sarcophagi that still stand in the center of town. On the hillside, just a short stroll from the center are rock-cut Lycian tombs. Climb the concrete steps to the entrance on the Ionic style Tomb of Amyntas. From the tomb, you will also have a superb view over the bay of Fethiye and to the nearby remains of medieval castle built for St John’s Knights. The town of Fethiye is an interesting mix of ancient sites and modern culture and a fantastic base for exploring the region with regular public transport and an international airport located just one hour away. If you prefer to stay on the beach during your vacation, take an airport transfer from Dalaman to Oludeniz and visit the breathtaking Blue Lagoon.

2. Tlos

Set between pomegranate orchards, rolling hills and vibrant meadows are the remains of the city of Tlos which dates back to 2,000 BC. The site has been fairly well-preserved and you can still take time to appreciate the decorative stone pillars which still support the antient structure and test the acoustics the old Amphitheatre. You could even climb inside one of the open tombs if you’re feeling brave. It was once one of the 6 major cities of the Lycian League, it is now abandoned aside from the occasional archaeologist and wandering goat herds. A visit would also give you a chance to explore a little of rural Turkish life in the neighboring village of Yaka.

3. The Ghost Town of Kayakoy

Kayakoy Ghost Town turkey
The Kayakoy Ghost Town
Credits: Alaturka Turkey

Just a 30-minute bus ride, or two-hour hike from Fethiye center, will take you to fairly unique abandoned city. The empty Greek settlement climbs the slopes of the valley above the modern village of Kayakoy. Steep cobbled stone paths meander through crumbling grey houses, plants grow inside the once occupied houses and an eerie quietness hangs over the streets. The once prosperous town has been abandoned since the 1923 population exchange and there is a stark contrast between the vacant old town and the modern restaurants that occupy the flat ground at the foot of the valley. Kayakoy is well worth a visit – don’t forget to try the local wine, which is excellent, and Gozleme (a type of savoury Turkish pastry) in one of the traditional local restaurants.

4. Patara

Once a major trading and naval base for the Lycian people, the ruins of Patara occupy the space at the eastern edge of Patara Beach. The vast site has been partially restored and covered areas are spread across the surrounding flat ground and wetland. Pass under the grand stone archway to enter the historic city and you will see two amphitheaters, remains of Lycian buildings and tall pillars marking the royal promenade. Again, you will find yourself sharing the archeological site with more goats than people as few international tourist venture to the remote ruins despite the nearby turtle nesting area and wide range of outdoor sports on offer around Patara.

5. Myra

Another of the Lycian Empire’s major cities, Myra is one of the best-preserved cities of the Lycia region. Although it was once much bigger, the grand Amphitheatre is still mostly intact, while richly embellished burial tombs are cut into the cliff face and the remains of animal and human stone carvings are scattered across the site. Entering the tombs is prohibited but you can see from outside and use your imagination to figure out just how these people managed to place their deceased in such hard to access places.

6. Olympos

Not just the name of the ruined city that spreads along the lush green river bank onto a smooth pebble beach, Olympos is also the name of the village that has become a trendy weekend getaway spot for both national and international tourists, as well as a regular departure point for Blue Cruises. After you’ve finished exploring the old fortress and your search for a sarcophagi in the steep tree lined valley slopes, you can go for a swim at the famous Cirali beach and relax at one of the Olympos tree house accommodations.

7. Simena, Kalekoy

Simena Castle stands upon a small hill above Kalekoy, ‘Castle Village’, while one side of its slopes is home to a rural village, the other side hosts scattered burial tombs and ruined stone walls. While you may be underwhelmed by the castle, the main reason to visit this ancient site is for the incredible view it provides over the dazzling Gokkaya Bay. Photographers will love this location as the rich green hills are reflected in the water and small islands dot the entrance to the bay. You can even see ruins lying beneath the sea from your excellent viewpoint.

8. The Sunken City of Kekova

Sunken City Turkey
The Sunken City
Credits: Alaturka Turkey

This is one of the most impressive and relatively unknown of Turkey’s countless ancient sites. The Lycian city of Kekova sunk below the crystal-clear waters in Gokkaya bay as a result of severe earthquakes. From the comfortable seat of a small fishing boat you can drift over the magical site, or rent a kayak and take your time paddling over the submerged walls and exploring the rest of this stunning bay.

9. Antalya Old Town

While the center of the busiest city in Southwestern Turkey may not seem like a likely spot to find ancient sites, Antalya’s old inner citadel, known as Kaleici, is home to the imposing Roman built ‘Hadrian’s Gate’ as well as the Roman/Ottoman Hidirlik Tower, a magnificent Ottoman Clock Tower and a lone Broken Minaret which has more than one story to tell of the cities complicated history. Aside from historic structures, Antalya’s old town is made up of quaint cobbled stone streets leading to a picturesque harbor, through souvenir stores and local eateries. It’s pleasant to walk about in the morning before the crowds arrive or in the evening when students and holidaymakers come together to enjoy live music in vibrant bars.

10. Termessos

Termessos turkey
Termessos – Turkey

The Psidian city of Termessos is located within the Gulluk Dagi National Park, a region rich with both flora and fauna as well as ancient history. This site is an ideal spot to combine history and adventure. While the city has been well-preserved, some parts are still heavily overgrown and require a fair amount of walking to visit. Termessos is hidden in the mountainous territory, naturally well-fortified, it is said that even Alexander the Great failed to take this city. Today it is not so difficult to access you can make a day trip from Antalya with Alaturka Turkey or take a public bus and hike the remaining 9 kilometers to the secluded site.

Written by Ani Carter for Alaturka Turkey.

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